This trip’s a bit different – coming from a cattle station near Rakula in the Northern Territory.
It’s a 32 hour return trip, but if you’re lucky you hitch a ride half way in the company baron – a twin engine, 6 seater aeroplane, saving just over 9 hours of driving and leaving you with the business end of the trip.
After taking off over Litchfield National Park, and a quick refuel at Katherine Airport, the baron circled over a tiny dirt station airstrip on the Barkly Tablelands. Visible from the air, the house yards were full of cattle that looked like tiny ants from above, kicking up the dust in the wind. The baron aligned with the airstrip, made the slow descent and landed at Eva Downs Station. Having friends at Eva made it easy to stay there the night. Eva Downs is a remote cattle station on the Barkly Stock Route where trees are rare, and the landscape is naked but is beautiful in its own way.
Taking off over Rakula in the plane
Most outback stations have a ‘Social Club’ on site, it’s like their own bar where ringers or station hands can buy drinks and snacks. So after a night at the station social club and a catch up with friends, we paid our dues by helping to load two road trains with cattle at 5am. The station cook served up a freshly cooked breaky and then it was time to hit the road. The ute we were borrowing hadn’t been driven all year, so it was pushed out of the shed, dusted off and the station mechanic gave it a once over. Freshly blown up tyres and a jump start on the engine and we were away.
A road train waiting to be loaded with cattle
An hour of dust (and not much else, literally nothing, no trees, bushes or grass) down the Barkly Stock Route later, saw a quick pit stop in at neighbouring station Anthony Lagoon, adding a number of cars and people to the convoy headed to Mt Isa. Anthony Lagoon Station is run in conjunction with Eva Downs and between them cover 886,000 hectares.
Wild Emu’s on the Barkly
Continuing down the Barkly Stock Route and Tablelands Highway for roughly three and a half hours where you’ll spot the odd emu, you’ll eventually come to the Barkly Highway and the Barkly Homestead – aka the Bark Hut. A famous landmark in the outback, the Bark Hut is a remote roadhouse halfway between Tennant Creek NT and Camooweal QLD. With 460km’s between the two towns, it’s the first and last stop for travellers crossing the border. It’s the best and only spot to stop for a pub meal and tank of fuel.
An hour on and across the NT/QLD border into Camooweal, it’s only another two hours past the mines and into Mt Isa sitting at a balmy 31 degrees. Mt Isa is a big mining town in the Gulf Country region of Queensland and the Mount Isa Mine is one of the most productive single mines in world history.
A buzzing town, we swung into the Mt Isa Hotel where we stayed the weekend. Mass accommodation and cold beverages, followed by tea pots of liquor at the Buffs Club – a strange local trait, who knew?!
Although I didn’t travel to Mt Isa for the rodeo, it is home to and known for the Mt Isa Mines Rodeo – the biggest and richest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere. This year it was set to celebrate its 61st year since its inception, however it has now been cancelled for the first time ever due to COVID-19. From street festivals, rock concerts and the rodeo itself, the event attracts up to 40,000 people annually. An Outback Queensland event not to be missed in August and one still on my bucket list.
As for the trip home, the baron arrived in Mt Isa two days later where we hitched a ride home via Brunette Downs Station, Katherine and back to Rakula, NT. Station life has it’s perks.
Images via Mt Isa Mines Rodeo, and Canva.